Curcumin is thought to be responsible for most of turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant dividends – making it a first choice for many suffering with arthritis. But it does more: The curcumin molecule extracted from the spice also acts against beta amyloid and tau, the two abnormal proteins linked with Alzheimer’s.
Yet studies show little merit in taking curcumin supplements for the brain. Why?
The reason, scientists theorized, was that because curcumin is difficult to absorb into the body, amounts reaching the brain would not be enough to have much impact. Their response has been to develop forms which are much more easily absorbed.
Two of these new forms of turmeric have been tested recently in separate human trials. Let’s see what happened…
The results are highly encouraging.
In 2015, Australian researchers carried out the first study to examine the effects of highly bio-available curcumin on cognition and mood.
They enrolled 60 healthy people aged between 60 and 85 to take part in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The researchers tested the effects of the new supplement from an hour after first taking it to four weeks of daily use.
The results showed significant improvements in those who took curcumin, but not in the placebo group. The study demonstrated better memory, attention, alertness and reduced fatigue. The participants also felt more calm and contented, with less stress.
Some of these effects were seen just 60 minutes after taking a single dose of the supplement. That’s rare, and remarkable. In fact, most turmeric studies show long-term use is required to see any results.
Lead researcher Andrew Scholey, from Swinburne University of Technology, said, “Curcumin has multiple physiological effects. It’s known to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. It influences multiple processes that nudge brain function in a positive direction.”
Slows Growth of Alzheimer’s Proteins
The second study was carried out by researchers from UCLA and published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in January, 2018. It was the first to test a new, more bioavailable form of the supplement over a longer time frame.
40 volunteers aged between 51 and 84 without dementia but with mild memory complaints took curcumin or placebo every day for 18 months.
They were all given standard cognitive assessments at the beginning of the trial and then again every six months. 30 also undertook brain scans to see if there were any changes in levels of amyloid and tau in the hypothalamus and amygdala. These are key areas for memory and emotion.
The researchers found a 28% improvement in memory in the curcumin group over 18 months. Those taking the placebo saw no benefits. The supplement takers also had better attention abilities and mild mood improvements.
Brain scans of those taking curcumin showed significantly less amyloid and tau accumulation than the placebo group.
How does the substance work? Dr. Gary Small, who led the trial, says we can’t be sure. “Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression.
“These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years.”
Two Different Forms of Curcumin Were Used
The new forms used in the studies were Theracurmin in the first and Longvida in the second.
To make Theracumin, curcumin is first made soluble with a vegetable gum, then ground into microscopic particles before being homogenized and suspended in solution.
Longivida uses a special coating of fatty acids and phospholipids which allow curcumin to enter the lymphatic system and be retained in the body.
Both are available online under various brand names.